Thursday, September 16, 2010

Europe's New Axis of Governing through Crime

France's President Nikolas Sarkozy and Italy's Premier, Silvio Berlusconi, took new rhetorical steps today to define a new alliance based on populist campaigns against despised minorities in the name of national security. The two leaders, both facing growing opposition at home over their failed economic policies have used aggressive campaigns of arrest and deportation against the nomadic Roma population to shore up their popularity with anxious voters. The Roma are citizens protected both by the European Union agreements and the European Charter of Human Rights. Despite strong outcries from human rights groups, the deportations of the Roma had received tepid responses from European Union officials (see my earlier post on this) until yesterday. Then, in a dramatic statement that seemed to contradict her earlier conciliatory remarks, European Commission commissioner Viviane Redding called France's deportations "a disgrace", and explicitly compared them to the deportations of Jews carried out by the Nazi allied Vichy regime (read Katrin Beinhold and Stephen Castle's reporting in the NYTimes). The intervening event was the publication of a leaked French memo contradicting earlier assurances by France that it was not singling out the Roma.

Today French President Sarkozy lashed out at the Commission (read the coverage from Matthew Saltmarsh and Katrin Beihold in the NYtimes), wrapping himself in French sovereignty and in the imperatives of providing security from crime.

Mr. Sarkozy called those remarks by the commissioner, Viviane Reding, an insult, and said they were “excessive” and “humiliating.” He also defended France’s right to carry out the removals, which have drawn criticism from human-rights groups and international organizations, as a matter of security.

“I am head of state,” Mr. Sarkozy told a press conference at a European summit meeting in Brussels. “I cannot let my nation be insulted. All the heads of state of government were shocked by the outrageous comments by Madame Reding.”

Sarkozy's defense relies on the stamp of approval applied by French national courts to the deportations, and his duty as head of state to put his citizen's security ahead of any other imperatives.

Mr. Sarkozy, whose government has vigorously defended the deportation policy, said Thursday that all expulsions to date had been carried out under French law and following decisions by judges without any “targeting” of specific groups.

But this logic completely ignores the whole point of having a European human rights charter. No doubt Vichy deportations of Jews would have been approved by Vichy courts if anyone had been permitted to challenge them and undoubtedly the Vichy government felt that removing Jews was in their security interest.

Italian Premier Sylvio Berlusconi, whose government has also conducted a deportation campaign against the Roma, defended the French actions as well. Of course if you need to rely on the notoriously scandal plagued Berlusconi to come to your rescue, you are hitting rock bottom.

No comments: